Yesterday I felt tired. This concerned me.

I’m used to feeling tired at the end of my Remicade cycle, but I had my last infusion four weeks ago. With four more weeks until my next, I should be at my physical peak. 

It could have been the cold weather, or the rain, or my night of restless sleep. It could be the stress of my two exams next week, or the consequence of running around campus from seven in the morning to nine at night. 

The cause of my fatigue could be any of those reasons. Or it could be the flu.

Here’s the thing about living with a Crohn’s disease: when a bug hits campus, I’m usually the first to go. I sit in my bed while the illness spreads across campus, ravages our student population, and subsides. Everything returns to normal and, a week or two later, I do too.

I’m now in my senior year at Brown. For the past three falls I have fought flu season with mild success. I haven’t caught the flu yet, but each of the past three years I have fallen ill with a nasty month-long cold.

In response, I have developed a strict set of rituals to ward off potential ills.

For example, our school offers free flu shots. I dutifully received mine the first day they were available. The nurse recommended I buy hand sanitizer too, and I showed him the bottle already in my backpack.

Each night, I drink a glass of Gatorade from a copper cup (it keeps the liquid cool). Whenever I feel tired, I drink another glass of Emergen-C. My mornings always start with a warm shower and two women’s multi-vitamin gummies (they taste better).

I keep my toothbrush in my room, not in the bathroom. And if I feel under the weather, I don’t wear my bottom retainer to bed.

Not all of these remedies may be medically sound, but I can’t help but indulge them. Flu season isn’t the time to mess around.

During the day I carry around a pocket full of tissues, and dispose of each one after a single use. If my nose is stuffy, I buy a jug of distilled water and pour a quart down my nose via a blue plastic Neti Pot.

When friends want to eat dinner together, I ask them “how are you feeling?” If their response is positive, I accept their invitation on a provisional basis. But if they sniffle during dinner, I deliberately move my chair further from them. When the dinner is finished, I extend my arm hesitantly, for an awkward side hug, before returning to my room to disinfect myself.

This array of bizarre behaviors isn’t visible to the untrained eye. Most don’t notice when I sanitize my hands, or silently shudder when someone near me sneezes and doesn’t cover up.

Occasionally, though, someone will pull out their hand sanitizer too, or talk about the benefits of their Neti Pot. I’ve spoken to people who, like me, will be bedridden for a week or two if they catch a simple cold. Their cleanliness habits are just as strict as mine.

The flu is my nemesis, but it’s the nemesis of others too. And together we’ll be out there, scrubbing and sanitizing, until the threat of the flu has passed us all.


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